Table of Contents
The Wheel of Being
The Fivefold Pattern, four directions are united by a fifth. It is thought that Ireland is divided similarly into Leinster, Munster, Connaught, Ulster and Meath.
In the Druidic universe, the Four Powers or Elements are united by the fifth, Balance or Spirit.
This design may represent the waxing, waning and full moon. This structure is also called the spiral of life and was found in a megalithic structure, Newgrange, in Ireland. The triple spiral was used consistently in Celtic art for 3000 years. The Celts believed that all life moved in eternal cycles, regenerating at each point. Celts also believed that all-important things came in three phases such as birth, death and rebirth and also mind, body and spirit. Modern researchers theorize that the triple spirals might have represented the human gestation period…What we refer to as "trimesters". The triple spiral later became the Triskele used in Christian manuscripts. The triple spiral is also used to represent the triple goddess (maiden, mother, crone, also represented by the waxing, full and waning moon), and triple god. Triple centered spirals were used by the early Christian monks in their illuminated manuscripts. More evidence that the concept of Trinity may have been adopted.
Called a Triquetra, Latin for three-cornered. In ancient and modern times the number 3 is seen an extremely powerful number. The circle represents unending love. Later the triquetra was adopted as a sign for the Holy Trinity in Christian symbolism.
The Clockwise Spiral
The clockwise spiral often represents the sun. Also the idea of growth, expansion, and cosmic energy, depending on the culture in which it is used.
The Double Spiral
The double spiral can represent the equinoxes, when day and night are of equal length. Also it is a sign of balance.
Triskelion is Greek for three-leg. In ancient Greece, this sign was associated with progress and competition. It is found on the coat of arms of the Isle of Man.
The Ring Cross
Bridging the earthly and spiritual worlds is represented by the vertical axis (spiritual world) and horizontal axis (earthly world). The Circle defines God's love as unending, with no beginning or ending.
The Awen Symbol,
Also called The Three Rays. First ray on the right symbolizes the male forces in the material world, known as "E" The left ray symbolizes the female forces in the material world, known as "O". The center ray, called "Ah", stands for the balance nature enforces on these two often-opposing elements
Druid Threefold Sister
Called the Druidic Threefold Sister Goddess: Fotla/Eiru/Banba. In Wicca it symbolizes the Threefold Mother Goddess: Maiden/Mother/Crone.
The Circle is a fairly universal symbol among world religions, though meaning may be different. It is a natural shape to represent the sun, the moon, many fruits, the bird's nest, the door through which we all were born, and the human eye. Since it has no beginning or end, it easily represents God's love; the Alpha and Omega; birth, death and rebirth.
This symbol is a rounded spiral with three arms radiating from a central point, turning counter-clockwise. The Triskele was a representation of the importance of the number three. In this form it too represents the three worlds and the travels to the outer spirit. It was also understood as standing for the sky, sea and land, which composes the foundation of the Celtic cosmology. Land, Sea and Sky are the three aspects that are present in every object of the material world. And so the Triskele is used to depict the cycles of life in the three folds or spheres of the material world The three spirals are ever flowing outward and always returning to where they started. The number three was particularly sacred to the Celts, and deities were sometimes portrayed in groups of three, or as having three heads or faces. In mythological tales, the deities or semi-divine
heroes are described as being one of three people of the same name, or as having been born three times in succession. The Triskele now is very familiar in Christian artwork where it denotes the Trinity
This version of the Triskele is called the Cauldron Symbol and is found on many Celtic artifacts. It represents the Maiden, Mother and Crone aspect of the Goddess. In the Cauldron, divine knowledge and inspiration are brewed. The Cauldron was believed to be under the power of the Earth goddess Cerridwen the goddess of transformation. Transformation or Shape shifting was an integral part of Celtic belief.
The Celtic Cross
Although today the symbol we usually think of when we hear the word cross brings to mind the Christian cross, the Celtic cross is much older. The oldest example of crosses are those engraved or painted on flat pebbles, dating from 10,000 B.C.E., found in a cave in the French Pyrenees. It has been surmised that these ancestor stones may have been believed to contain the spirits of the dead.
A true "Celtic cross" is not just any cross that has Celtic knot work on it. Celtic crosses are equal-armed crosses, normally enclosed or backed by a circle.
The Celtic cross symbolizes the four roads or the four corners of the earth (forerunners of our parallels of latitude and longitude), and the meetings of these roads at a central point formed a cross, indicating the center of the world body.
The center of the cross is also representative of the center place where all forces of Life meet, the source of the four mystic rivers, summit of the world mountain, etc.
The circle is a symbol of eternity and the path of the sun in the sky and also the shape of the sun itself and so they are solar symbols and symbolic of the source of light and ultimate energy..
Crosses symbolize the bridge to the "other world" or "worlds" and also to higher energy and knowledge. This is shown by the vertical axis which represents the celestial world, and the horizontal axis that symbolizes Earthly world.
After the introduction of Christianity, it became more common to see the equal-armed cross atop a matching pedestal, which gave it a more elongated form. The circle on the "Celtic" cross is another good demonstration of a pagan symbol being absorbed by Christianity, for it is known that the early monks placed the pagan circle symbol on the "Celtic" cross to try and convert the native pagans more easily.
Key and Step Patterns
Key and step patterns are really spirals in straight lines. When connected, they become a processional path, leading through a complex maze to the sacred "omphalos" (the navel) at the center - the point where Heaven and Earth are joined.
The labyrinth dates back to prehistoric times, and is perceived as sacred space. It seems to have been an integral part of many cultures, such as the Celtic, Mayan, Greek, Cretan, and Native American.
Labyrinths are different from mazes. Labyrinths are unicursal. They have one well-defined path that leads us into the center and back out again. There are no tricks to it, no dead ends or cul-de-sacs, no intersecting paths.
Mazes, on the other hand, are multicursal. They offer a choice of paths, some with many entrances and exits. Dead ends and cul-de-sacs present riddles to be solved. Mazes challenge the choice-making part of us. In fact a labyrinth is a magical single-path maze.
The main point about a maze is that there's a choice. All along the way, there are choices. The only choice a labyrinth gives you is if you want to go in or not.
Labyrinths, like wells, were primarily religious objects and were later incorporated into the Christian church.
Previously, on the solar celebrations and other religious festivals, the adept danced the "Sacred Dance" barefoot to absorb the earth's energies, through the Labyrinth. This was a journey through progressive levels of experience, physical, mental and spiritual, until the vortex at the center was reached.
Key Patterns either have one center of are divided into four equal sections each with its own center.
Key patterns are universal pattern which up until recently were attributed largely to the Greeks, but in fact originated in the Ukraine some 15,000 years earlier.
The patterns are contained in a Lozenge shape (diamond) and sometimes have lozenge shapes in them.
These diamond shapes (lozenge) have also appeared with triangles on shrine walls, vases, seals, and, typically, on the pregnant belly or other parts of the Pregnant Goddess representations, starting in the seventh millennium B.C.E.
The lozenge design is thought to simply be a symbol of fertility because of its vulva configuration.
A lozenge with a dot in the four corners may denote planting in all four directions, whereas many dots within a diamond may signify multiplication of the seed, a general resurgence of life in the sown field.
The lozenge that is divided in equal parts suggests that all fat parts of the body were significant, considered to be growing, or pregnant. This sign, apparently, is representative of the Great Mother from whose womb we were given birth, and in whose womb still rest the countless unborn.
The many megalithic Stone monuments around the Celtic lands, which predate the Celtic culture by thousands of years, sometimes have various designs inscribed upon them, including various lozenge shapes. These monuments were likely observatories for astronomical measurements.
The rising and setting points of the sun at summer and winter solstices for a perfect right angle at the point where the drawn lines cross at 55 degrees latitude The degree of the angle changes according to latitude. If you then use those degrees to form a closed shape you will then have, you got it, a lozenge shape. which lengthens or shortens according to the latitude the measurements are taken. Some researchers think that these pictures were ways for the ancients to record observations. It is probably no coincidence that most of these observatories occur at specific latitudes all the way from 23 degrees at Nabta, in Egypt to 59 degrees latitude at the Ring of Brodgar in North Scotland.
Pentacles are composed of a five-point star enclosed within a circle. Pentacles can be variously interpreted as representing the five elements (GREEK ORIGINS - earth, air, fire, water, and spirit), or the five stages of Life (birth, youth, adulthood, old age, and death). In both cases, the path used to trace the star shape symbolizes the continuity and connection between the extremes.
The Celtic Pentacle also named Wizard's Star, Star of Bethlehem, Three King's Star, or Druid's Foot - was sacred to the Celtic Goddess Morgan. In her honor, the solar hero Gawain carried a pentacle on his blood-red shield.
The magical weaving of an unbroken line was believed to form gateless protection, and as a protection symbol, the pentacle is used as a magic charm within many ancient cultures.
The five-pointed star represents the sign of man - woman, connecting the five body-mind elements together. The pentacle is a sign for life or health.
The pentacle is often used as a symbol of faith by Pagans, and particularly by Wiccans. And because Christianity at some point chose to paint pagan religions as evil, this symbol has also come to be seen as evil.
But the pentacle, as a symbol is much older than even the pagan religions that use it. An interesting thought is that Venus it seems, turns out to be the most accurate indicator of the time of year available to us.
Every eight years the cycle of Venus marks a point when the solar calendar, the lunar calendar and the sidereal calendar (position of stars) all coincide to within a few minutes! And every 5 Venus cycles (every 40 years) it synchronizes all these calendars to within a few seconds. The movement of Venus around the zodiac during its cycles traces out the shape of a pentacle. Little wonder that both the planet Venus and the Pentacle should have held such sacred significance.
Doorways to sacred places were often adorned with a key pattern lattice archway, representing doors that lead to the inner spiritual realms, the journey into the Great Mysteries.
For apprentices being initiated into the mysteries, the willingness to pass through the threshold was the first step on a journey through progressive levels of experience, physical, mental, and spiritual, until the vortex at the center was reached, as conveyed by the key pattern/labyrinth design of the lattice archway above the door.
Tree of Life
The Celtic Tree of Life is one of the most popular and enduring motifs of Celtic Art, found both on Northumbrian and Celtic crosses and on illuminated manuscripts. The 'Tree of Life' concept is found in many cultures worldwide including Celtic. It is often regarded as an all-nourishing, all-giving Mother.
Many myths tell of the Tree of Life or World Tree as being involved in the creation of the universe. Huge oak forests once covered Britain and tree reverence is a major feature within the Celtic religion. They reflect a link between the upper and lower worlds.
The Ancients envisioned the entire cosmos in the form of a tree whose roots grow deep into the underground, its branches reaching high into the heavens and sky. The Celtic Tree of Life is the symbol of balance between these worlds; the unification of above and below; a symbol of Balance and Harmony. It's branches and roots form a map of the cosmos wherein all things are interwoven and connected.
When a tribe cleared the land for a settlement, they always left a great tree in the middle, known in Ireland as the "crann bethadh," or Tree of Life, that embodied the security and integrity of the people. Chieftains were inaugurated at the sacred tree, for, with its roots stretching down to the lower world, its branches reaching to the upper world, it connected him with the power both of the heavens and the worlds below. One of the greatest triumphs a tribe could achieve over its enemies was to cut down their mother tree, an outrage punishable by the highest penalties.
Because trees have their roots in the unseen world of spirit, they are doorways into that world. That most magical of Celtic trees, the oak, derives its Gaelic name, (Old Irish daur, Welsh derw) from the Sanskrit word duir, that gives us "door." Many scholars believe that the Druids, who worshipped and had their teaching centers within sacred groves, derived their name from this word, combined with the Indo-European root wid, to know, becoming the "Wise Ones of the Oakwood." The words for wood and wisdom in the Welsh language are also similar gwydd and gwyddon).
In most 'Tree of Life' examples, the plants and trees have a logical growth pattern with branches from a main stem to form cornucopia from which other branches with leaves and fruits emerge.
Many Celtic Tree of Life designs emerge from a pot. This pot symbolizes the Earth Mother from which all life springs.
It is interesting to note that in most examples the plants bear a remarkable resemblance to mistletoe, one of the Druids most sacred plants.
Much of the Celtic artwork is characterized by complex "knot work" patterns.
The Celtic knot symbolizes the "Thread of Life".
To the Celts, the human soul was thought to be a fragment of the divine, which will ultimately return to its divine source. Through successive rebirths the soul rids itself of its accumulated, inherited impurities until it finally achieves the goal of perfection.
The interlaced, or latticed, knot work patterns, with their unbroken lines, symbolize the process of humankind's eternal spiritual evolution. When the cord is unraveled, it leads us on our journey.
A knot lattice can be used as an aid to meditation by occupying the conscious mind with a demanding repetitive task. In fact, I think that you will notice that when you gaze at Celtic Knot work you are immediately "drawn in". The designs actually seem to pull and compel your psyche to follow the intricate paths of the design.
As you explore some of the patterns you may begin to notice similarities to symbolism and patterns from other cultures. Is there a link back to one source? Perhaps. Or perhaps something in the human psyche is simply drawn to these patterns and our minds, simply because of our basic similarity in design, strive to define our world and experience through these symbols and patterns which also show up in our natural environment.
There is not just one knot that can be called an "Eternity Knot". Any knot that has a closed path, with no beginning or end may be symbolic of eternity or continuum.
It is debatable if this was ever the intentional meaning of ancient scribes, but since this meaning was suggested by the great Scottish Celtic art teacher of the 20th century, George Bain, it has been an accepted meaning by many artists and craftsmen. Since knot work is often used as an emblem of heritage, the symbolism of "continuum" reinforces the endurance of the tradition.
Likewise any knot can be a "lover's knot". Most commonly knots that link separate paths are used as lover's knots. The "Josephine Knot" or "Granny knot" is a linking knot that is frequently called a lover's knot.
The Tuim Knot
Tuim Knot is said to represent the four seasons the four seasonal lunar holidays, and the four elements earth, air, fire, and water